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Growth of the Soil By Knut Hamsun Characters: 53070

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

A notable procession coming up to Sellanraa; Something laughable to look at, maybe, but more than that. Three men with enormous burdens, with sacks hanging down from their shoulders, front and back. Walking one behind the other, and calling to one another with jesting words, but heavily laden. Little Andresen, chief clerk, is head of that procession; indeed, 'tis his procession; he has fitted out himself, and Sivert from Sellanraa, and one other, Fredrik Str?m from Breidablik, for the expedition. A notable little man is Andresen; his shoulder is weighed down slantwise on one side, and his jacket pulled all awry at the neck, the way he goes, but he carries his burden on and on.

Storborg and the business Eleseus had left-well, not bought it straight out on the spot, perhaps, 'tis more than Andresen could afford; better afford to wait a bit and get the whole maybe for nothing. Andresen is no fool; he has taken over the place on lease for the meanwhile, and manages the business himself.

Gone through the stock in hand, and found a deal of unsalable truck in Eleseus' store, even to such things as toothbrushes and embroidered table centres; ay, and stuffed birds on springs that squeaked when you pressed in the right place.

These are the things he has started out with now, going to sell them to the miners on the other side of the hills. He knows from Aronsen's time that miners with money in their pockets will buy anything on earth. Only a pity he had to leave behind six rocking-horses that Eleseus had ordered on his last trip to Bergen.

The caravan turns into the yard at Sellanraa and sets down its load. No long wait here; they drink a mug of milk, and make pretence of trying to sell their wares on the spot, then shoulder their burdens and off again. They are not out for pretence. Off they go, trundling southward through the forest.

They march till noon, rest for a meal and on again till evening. Then they camp and make a fire, lie down, and sleep a while. Sivert sleeps resting on a boulder that he calls an arm-chair. Oh, Sivert knows what he is about; here's the sun been warming that boulder all day, till it's a good place to sit and sleep. His companions are not so wise, and will not take advice; they lie down in the heather, and wake up feeling cold, and sneezing. Then they have breakfast and start off again.

Listening now, for any sound of blasting about; they are hoping to come on the mine, and meet with folk some time that day. The work should have got so far by now; a good way up from the water towards Sellanraa. But never a sound of blasting anywhere. They march till noon, meeting never a soul; but here and there they come upon holes in the ground, where men have been digging for trial. What can this mean? Means, no doubt, that the ore must be more than commonly rich at the farther end of the tract; they are getting out pure heavy copper, and keeping to that end all the time.

In the afternoon they come upon several more mines, but no miners; they march on till evening, and already they can make out the sea below; marching through a wilderness of deserted mines, and never a sound. 'Tis all beyond understanding, but nothing for it; they must camp and sleep out again that night. They talk the matter over: Can the work have stopped? Should they turn and go back again? "Not a bit of it," says Andresen.

Next morning a man walks into their camp-a pale, haggard man who looks at them frowningly, piercingly. "That you, Andresen?" says the man. It is Aronsen, Aronsen the trader. He does not say "No" to a cup of hot coffee and something to eat with the caravan, and settles down at once. "I saw the smoke of your fire, and came up to see what it was," says he. "I said to myself, 'Sure enough, they're coming to their senses, and starting work again.' And 'twas only you, after all! Where you making for, then?"


"What's that you've got with you?"


"Goods?" cries Aronsen. "Coming up here with goods for sale? Who's to buy them? There's never a soul. They left last Saturday gone."

"Left? Who left?"

"All the lot. Not a soul on the place now. And I've goods enough myself, anyway. A whole store packed full. I'll sell you anything you like."

Oh, Trader Aronsen in difficulties again! The mine has shut down.

They ply him with coffee till he grows calmer, and asks what it all means.

Aronsen shakes his head despairingly. "'Tis beyond understanding, there's no words for it," says he. All had been going so well, and he had been selling goods, and money pouring in; the village round all flourishing, and using the finest meal, and a new schoolhouse, and hanging lamps and town-made boots, and all! Then suddenly their lordships up at the mine take it into their heads that the thing isn't paying, and close down. Not paying? But it paid them before? Wasn't there clean copper there and plain to see at every blasting? 'Twas rank cheating, no less. "And never a thought of what it means to a man like me. Ay, I doubt it's as they say; 'tis that Geissler's at the bottom of it all, same as before. No sooner he'd come up than the work stopped; 'twas as if he'd smelt it out somehow."

"Geissler, is he here, then?"

"Is he not? Ought to be shot, he ought! Comes up one day by the steamer and says to the engineer: 'Well, how's things going?'-'All right, as far as I can see,' says the engineer. But Geissler he just stands there, and asks again: 'Ho, all right, is it?'-'Ay, as far as I know,' says the engineer. But as true as I'm here, no sooner the post comes up from that same boat Geissler had come by, than there's letter and telegram both to the engineer that the work wasn't paying, and he's to shut down at once."

The members of the expedition look at one another, but the leader,

Andresen himself, has not lost courage yet.

"You may just as well turn back and go home again," is Aronsen's advice.

"We're not doing that," says Andresen, and packs up the coffee-pot.

Aronsen stares at the three of them in turn. "You're mad, then," says he.

Look you, Andresen he cares little now for what his master that was can say; he's master himself now, leader of an expedition equipped at his own expense for a journey to distant parts; 'twould lose him his prestige to turn back now where he is.

"Well, where will you go?" asks Aronsen irritably.

"Can't say," answers Andresen. But he's a notion of his own all the same, no doubt; thinking, maybe, of the natives, and coming down into the district three men strong, with glass beads and finger rings. "We'll be getting on," says he to the rest.

Now, Aronsen had thought like enough to go farther up that morning, seeing he'd come so far, wanting, maybe, to see if all the place was quite deserted, if it could be true every man on the place was gone. But seeing these pedlar-folk so set on going on, it hinders him, and he tells them again and again they're mad to try. Aronsen is furious himself, marches down in front of the caravan, turning round and shouting at them, barking at them, trying to keep them out of his district. And so they come down to the huts in the mining centre.

A little town of huts, but empty and desolate. Most of the tools and implements are housed under cover, but poles and planks, broken carts and cases and barrels, lie all about in disorder; here and there a notice on a door declares "No admittance."

"There you are," cries Aronsen. "What did I say? Not a soul in the place." And he threatens the caravan with disaster-he will send for the Lensmand; anyway, he's going to follow them every step now, and if he can catch them at any unlawful trading 'tis penal servitude and slavery, no mistake!

All at once somebody calls out for Sivert. The place is not altogether dead, after all, not utterly deserted; here is a man standing beckoning at the corner of a house. Sivert trundles over with his load, and sees at once who it is-Geissler.

"Funny meeting you here," says Geissler. His face is red and flourishing, but his eyes apparently cannot stand the glare of spring, he is wearing smoked glasses. He talks as brilliantly as ever. "Luckiest thing in the world," says he. "Save me going all the way up to Sellanraa; and I've a deal to look after. How many settlers are there in the Almenning now?"


"Ten new holdings. I'll agree. I'm satisfied. But 'tis two-and-thirty-thousand men of your father's stamp the country wants. Ay, that's what I say, and I mean it; I've reckoned it out."

"Sivert, are you coming on?" The caravan is waiting.

Geissler hears, and calls back sharply: "No."

"I'll come on after," calls Sivert, and sets down his load.

The two men sit down and talk. Geissler is in the right mood today; the spirit moves him, and he talks all the time, only pausing when Sivert puts in a word or so in answer, and then going on again. "A mighty lucky thing-can't help saying it. Everything turned out just as I wanted all the way up, and now meeting you here and saving all the journey to Sellanraa. All well at home, what?"

"All well, and thank you kindly."

"Got up that hayloft yet, over the cowshed?"

"Ay, 'tis done."

"Well, well-I've a heap of things to look to, almost more than I can manage. Look at where we're sitting now, for instance. What d'you say to that, Sivert man? Ruined city, eh? Men gone about to build it all against their nature and well-being. Properly speaking, it's all my fault from the start-that is to say, I'm a humble agent in the workings of fate. It all began when your father picked up some bits of stone up in the hills, and gave you to play with when you were a child. That was how it started. I knew well enough those bits of stone were worth exactly as much as men would give for them, no more; well and good, I set a price on them myself, and bought them. Then the stones passed from hand to hand, and did no end of damage. Time went on. And now, a few days ago, I came up here again, and what for, d'you think? To buy those stones back again!"

Geissler stops for a moment, and looks at Sivert. Then suddenly he glances at the sack, and asks: "What's that you're carrying?"

"Goods," says Sivert. "We're taking them down to the village."

Geissler does not seem interested in the answer; has not even heard it, like as not. He goes on:

"Buy them back again-yes. Last time, I let my son manage the deal; he sold them then. Young fellow about your own age, that's all about him. He's the lightning in the family, I'm more a sort of fog. Know what's the right thing to do, but don't do it. But he's the lightning-and he's entered the service of industry for the time being. 'Twas he sold for me last time. I'm something and he's not, he's only the lightning; quick to act, modern type. But the lightning by itself's a barren thing. Look at you folk at Sellanraa, now; looking up at blue peaks every day of your lives; no new-fangled inventions about that, but fjeld and rocky peaks, rooted deep in the past-but you've them for companionship. There you are, living in touch with heaven and earth, one with them, one with all these wide, deep-rooted things. No need of a sword in your hands, you go through life bareheaded, barehanded, in the midst of a great kindliness. Look, Nature's there, for you and yours to have and enjoy. Man and Nature don't bombard each other, but agree; they don't compete, race one against the other, but go together. There's you Sellanraa folk, in all this, living there. Fjeld and forest, moors and meadow, and sky and stars-oh, 'tis not poor and sparingly counted out, but without measure. Listen to me, Sivert: you be content! You've everything to live on, everything to live for, everything to believe in; being born and bringing forth, you are the needful on earth. 'Tis not all that are so, but you are so; needful on earth. 'Tis you that maintain life. Generation to generation, breeding ever anew; and when you die, the new stock goes on. That's the meaning of eternal life. What do you get out of it? An existence innocently and properly set towards all. What you get out of it? Nothing can put you under orders and lord it over you Sellanraa folk, you've peace and authority and this great kindliness all round. That's what you get for it. You lie at a mother's breast and suck, and play with a mother's warm hand. There's your father now, he's one of the two-and-thirty thousand. What's to be said of many another? I'm something, I'm the fog, as it were, here and there, floating around, sometimes coming like rain on dry ground. But the others? There's my son, the lightning that's nothing in itself, a flash of barrenness; he can act.

"My son, ay, he's the modern type, a man of our time; he believes honestly enough all the age has taught him, all the Jew and the Yankee have taught him; I shake my head at it all. But there's nothing mythical about me; 'tis only in the family, so to speak, that I'm like a fog. Sit there shaking my head. Tell the truth-I've not the power of doing things and not regretting it. If I had, I could be lightning myself. Now I'm a fog."

Suddenly Geissler seems to recollect himself, and asks: "Got up that hayloft yet, above the cowshed?"

"Ay, that's done. And father's put up a new house."

"New house?"

"'Tis in case any one should come, he says-in case Geissler he should happen to come along."

Geissler thinks over this, and takes his decision: "Well, then, I'd better come. Yes, I'll come; you can tell your father that. But I've a heap of things to look to. Came up here and told the engineer to let his people in Sweden know I was ready to buy. And we'd see what happened. All the same to me, no hurry. You ought to have seen that engineer-here he's been going about and keeping it all up with men and horses and money and machines and any amount of fuss; thought it was all right, knew no better. The more bits of stone he can turn into money, the better; he thinks he's doing something clever and deserving, bringing money to the place, to the country, and everything nearing disaster more and more, and he's none the wiser. 'Tis not money the country wants, there's more than enough of it already; 'tis men like your father there's not enough of. Ay, turning the means to an end in itself and being proud of it! They're mad, diseased; they don't work, they know nothing of the plough, only the dice. Mighty deserving of them, isn't it, working and wasting themselves to nothing in their own mad way. Look at them-staking everything, aren't they? There's but this much wrong with it all; they forget that gambling isn't courage, 'tis not even foolhardy courage, 'tis a horror. D'you know what gambling is? 'Tis fear, with the sweat on your brow, that's what it is. What's wrong with them is, they won't keep pace with life, but want to go faster-race on, tear on ahead, driving themselves into life itself like wedges. And then the flanks of them say: here, stop, there's something breaking, find a remedy; stop, say the flanks! And then life crushes them, politely but firmly crushes them. And then they set to complaining about life, raging against life! Each to his own taste; some may have ground to complain, others not, but there's none should rage against life. Not be stern and strict and just with life, but be merciful to it, and take its part; only think of the gamblers life has to bear with!"

Geissler recollects himself again, and says: "Well, all that's as it may be; leave it!" He is evidently tired, beginning to breathe in little gasps. "Going down?" says he.


"There's no hurry. You owe me a long walk over the hills, Sivert man, remember that? I remember it all. I remember from the time I was a year and a half; stood leaning down from the barn bridge at Garmo, and noticed a smell. I can smell it again now. But all that's as it may be, that too; but we might have done that trip over the hills now if you hadn't got that sack. What's in it?"

"Goods. 'Tis Andresen is going to sell them."

"Well, then, I'm a man that knows what's the right thing to do, but doesn't do it," says Geissler. "I'm the fog. Now perhaps I'll buy that mine back again one of these days, it's not impossible; but if I do, it wouldn't be to go about staring up at the sky and saying, 'Aerial railway! South America!' No, leave that to the gamblers. Folk hereabout say I must be the devil himself because I knew beforehand this was going to break up. But there's nothing mystical about me, 'tis simple enough. The new copper mines in Montana, that's all. The Yankees are smarter than we are at that game; they are cutting us to death in South America-our ore here's too poor. My son's the lightning; he got the news, and I came floating up here. Simple, isn't it? I beat those fellows in Sweden by a few hours, that's all."

Geissler is short of breath again; he gets on his feet, and says: "If you're going down, let's get along."

They go on down together, Geissler dragging behind, all tired out. The caravan has stopped at the quay, and Fredrik Str?m, cheerful as ever, is poking fun at Aronsen: "I'm clean out of tobacco; got any tobacco, what?"

"I'll give you tobacco," said Aronsen threateningly.

Fredrik laughs, and says comfortingly: "Nay, you've no call to take it all heavy-like and sad, Aronsen. We're just going to sell these things here before your eyes, and then we'll be off home again."

"Get away and wash your dirty mouth," says Aronsen furiously.

"Ha ha ha! Nay, you've no call to dance about that way; keep still and look like a picture!"

Geissler is tired, tired out, even his smoked glasses do not help him now, his eyes keep closing in the glare.

"Good-bye, Sivert man," says he all at once. "No, I can't get up to Sellanraa this time, after all; tell your father. I've a heap of things to see to. But I'll come later on-say that…."

Aronsen spits after him, and says: "Ought to be shot!"

* * * * *

For three days the caravan peddles its wares, selling out the contents of the sacks, and getting good prices. It was a brilliant piece of business. The village folk were still well supplied with money after the downfall of the mine, and were excellently in form in the way of spending; those stuffed birds on springs were the very thing they wanted; they set them up on chests of drawers in their parlours, and also bought nice paper-knives, the very thing for cutting the leaves of an almanac. Aronsen was furious. "Just as if I hadn't things every bit as good in my store," said he.

Trader Aronsen was in a sorry way; he had made up his mind to keep with these pedlars and their sacks, watching them all the time; but they went separate ways about the village, each for himself, and Aronsen almost tore himself to pieces trying to follow all at once. First he gave up Fredrik Str?m, who was quickest at saying unpleasant things; then Sivert, because he never said a word, but went on selling; at last he stuck to following his former clerk, and trying to set folk against him wherever he went in. Oh, but Andresen knew his master that was-knew him of old, and how little he knew of business and unlawful trading.

"Ho, you mean to say English thread's not prohibited?" said Aronsen, looking wise.

"I know it is," answered Andresen. "But I'm not carrying any this way; I can sell that elsewhere. I haven't a reel in my pack; look for yourself, if you like."

"That's as it may be," says Aronsen. "Anyway, I know what's forbidden, and I've shown you, so don't try to teach me."

Aronsen stood it for a whole day, then he gave up Andresen, too, and went home. The pedlars had no one to watch them after that.

And then things began to go swimmingly. It was in the day when womenfolk used to wear loose plaits in their hair; and Andresen, he was the man to sell loose plaits. Ay, at a pinch he could sell fair plaits to dark girls, and be sorry he'd nothing lighter; no grey plaits, for instance, for that was the finest of all. And every evening the three young salesmen met at an appointed place and went over the day's trade, each borrowing from another anything he'd sold out of; and Andresen would sit down, often as not, and take out a file and file away the German trade-mark from a sportsman's whistle, or rub out "Faber" on the pens and pencils. Andresen was a trump, and always had been.

Sivert, on the other hand, was rather a disappointment. Not that he was any way slack, and failed to sell his goods-'twas he, indeed, sold most-but he did not get enough for them. "You don't put in enough patter with it," said Andresen.

No, Sivert was no hand at reeling off a lot of talk; he was a fieldworker, sure of what he said, and speaking calmly when he spoke at all. What was there to talk about here? Also, Sivert was anxious to be done with it and get back home, there was work to do in the fields.

"Tis that Jensine's calling him," Fredrik Str?m explained. Fredrik, himself, by the way, had work on his own fields to be done that spring, and little time to waste; but for all that, he must look in on Aronsen the last day and get up an argument with him. "I'll sell him the empty sacks," said he.

Andresen and Sivert stayed outside while he went in. They heard grand goings-on inside the store, both talking at once, and Fredrik setting up a laugh now and again; then Aronsen threw open the door and showed his visitor out. Oh, but Fredrik didn't come out-no, he took his time, and talked a lot more. The last thing they heard from outside was Fredrik trying to sell Aronsen a lot of rocking-horses.

Then the caravan went home again-three young men full of life and health. They marched and sang, slept a few hours in the open, and went on again. When they got back to Sellanraa on the Monday, Isak had begun sowing. The weather was right for it; the air moist, with the sun peeping out now and again, and a mighty rainbow strung right across the heavens.

The caravan broke up-Farvel, Farvel….

* * * * *

Isak at his sowing; a stump of a man, a barge of a man to look at, nothing more. Clad in homespun-wool from his own sheep, boots from the hide of his own cows and calves. Sowing-and he walks religiously bareheaded to that work; his head is bald just at the very top, but all the rest of him shamefully hairy; a fan, a wheel of hair and beard, stands out from his face. 'Tis Isak, the Margrave.

'Twas rarely he knew the day of the month-what need had he of that? He had no bills to be met on a certain date; the marks on his almanac were to show the time when each of the cows should bear. But he knew St. Olaf's Day in the autumn, that by then his hay must be in, and he knew Candlemas in spring, and that three weeks after then the bears came out of their winter quarters; all seed must be in the earth by then. He knew what was needful.

A tiller of the ground, body and soul; a worker on the land without respite. A ghost risen out of the past to point the future, a man from the earliest days of cultivation, a settler in the wilds, nine hundred years old, and, withal, a man of the day.

Nay, there was nothing left to him now of the copper mine and its riches-the money had vanished into air. And who had anything left of all that wealth when the working stopped, and the hills lay dead and deserted? But the Almenning was there still, and ten new holdings on that land, beckoning a hundred more.

Nothing growing there? All things growing there; men and beasts and fruit of the soil. Isak sowing his corn. The evening sunlight falls on the corn that flashes out in an arc from his hand, and falls like a dropping of gold to the ground. Here comes Sivert to the harrowing; after that the roller, and then the harrow again. Forest and field look on. All is majesty and power-a sequence and purpose of things.

Kling … eling … say the cow bells far up on the hillside, coming nearer and nearer; the cattle are coming home for the night. Fifteen head of them, and five-and-forty sheep and goats besides; threescore in all. There go the women out with their milk-pails, carried on yokes from the shoulder: Leopoldine, Jensine, and little Rebecca. All three barefooted. The Margravine, Inger herself, is not with them; she is indoors preparing the meal. Tall and stately, as she moves about her house, a Vestal tending the fire of a kitchen stove. Inger has made her stormy voyage, 'tis true, has lived in a city a while, but now she is home; the world is wide, swarming with tiny specks-Inger has been one of them. All but nothing in all humanity, only one speck.

Then comes the evening.

Knut Hamsun


W.W. Worster

Knut Hamsun [Footnote: December, 1920.]

By W.W. Worster

Knut Hamsun is now sixty. For years past he has been regarded as the greatest of living Norwegian writers, but he is still little known in England. One or two attempts have been made previously to introduce Hamsun's work into this country, but it was not until this year, with the publication of Growth of the Soil, that he achieved any real success, or became at all generally known, among English readers.

Growth of the Soil (Markens Gr?de) is Hamsun's latest work. Its reception here was one of immediate and unstinted appreciation, such as is rarely accorded to a translated work by an alien author practically unknown even to the critics. A noticeable feature was the frankness with which experienced bookmen laid aside stock phrases, and dealt with this book as in response to a strong personal appeal. To the reviewer, aged with much knowledge, hardened by much handling of mediocrity, it is a relief to meet with a book that can and must be dealt with so.

Those readers are, perhaps, most fortunate who come upon such a book as this without foretaste or preparation. To the mind under spell of an aesthetic or emotional appeal, the steps that went to make it, the stages whereby the author passed, are as irrelevant as the logarithms that went to build an aeroplane. Yet it is only by knowledge of such steps that the achievement can be fully understood.

Growth of the Soil is very far indeed from Hamsun's earliest beginnings: far even from the books of his early middle period, which made his name. It is the life story of a man in the wilds, the genesis and gradual development of a homestead, the unit of humanity, in the unfilled, uncleared tracts that still remain in the Norwegian Highlands. It is an epic of earth; the history of a microcosm. Its dominant

note is one of patient strength and simplicity; the mainstay of its working is the tacit, stern, yet loving alliance between Nature and the Man who faces her himself, trusting to himself and her for the physical means of life, and the spiritual contentment with life which she must grant if he be worthy. Modern man faces Nature only by proxy, or as proxy, through others or for others, and the intimacy is lost. In the wilds the contact is direct and immediate; it is the foothold upon earth, the touch of the soil itself, that gives strength.

The story is epic in its magnitude, in its calm, steady progress and unhurrying rhythm, in its vast and intimate humanity. The author looks upon his characters with a great, all-tolerant sympathy, aloof yet kindly, as a god. A more objective work of fiction it would be hard to find-certainly in what used to be called "the neurasthenic North."

And this from the pen of the man who wrote Sult, Mysterier, and Pan.

Hamsun's early work was subjective in the extreme; so much so, indeed, as almost to lie outside the limits of aesthetic composition. As a boy he wrote verse under difficulties-he was born in Gudbrandsdalen, but came as a child to Bod? in Lofoten, and worked with a shoemaker there for some years, saving up money for the publication of his juvenile efforts. He had little education to speak of, and after a period of varying casual occupations, mostly of the humblest sort, he came to Christiania with the object of studying there, but failed to make his way. Twice he essayed his fortune in America, but without success. For three years he worked as a fisherman on the Newfoundland Banks.

His Nordland origin is in itself significant; it means an environment of month-long nights and concentrated summers, in which all feelings are intensified, and love and dread and gratitude and longing are nearer and deeper than in milder and more temperate regions, where elemental opposites are, as it were, reciprocally diluted.

In 1890, at the age of thirty, Hamsun attracted attention by the publication of Sult (Hunger). Sult is a record of weeks of starvation in a city; the semi-delirious confession of a man whose physical and mental faculties have slipped beyond control. He speaks and acts irrationally, and knows it, watches himself at his mental antics and takes himself to task for the same. And he asks himself: Is it a sign of madness?

It might seem so. The extraordinary associations, the weird fancies and bizarre impulses that are here laid bare give an air of convincing verisimilitude to the supposed confessions of a starving journalist. But, as a matter of fact, Hamsun has no need of extraneous influences to invest his characters with originality. Starving or fed, they can be equally erratic. This is seen in his next book, Mysterier.

Here we have actions and reactions as fantastic as in Sult, though the hero has here no such excuse as in the former case. The "mysteries," or mystifications, of Nagel, a stranger who comes, for no particular reason apparent, to stay in a little Norwegian town, arise entirely out of Nagel's own personality.

Mysterier is one of the most exasperating books that a publisher's reader, or a conscientious reviewer, could be given to deal with. An analysis of the principal character is a most baffling task. One is tempted to call him mad, and have done with it. But, as a matter of fact, he is uncompromisingly, unrestrainedly human; he goes about constantly saying and doing things that we, ordinary and respectable people, are trained and accustomed to refrain from saying or doing at all. He has the self-consciousness of a sensitive child; he is for ever thinking of what people think of him, and trying to create an impression. Then, with a paradoxical sincerity, he confesses that the motive of this or that action was simply to create an impression, and thereby destroys the impression. Sometimes he caps this by wilfully letting it appear that the double move was carefully designed to produce the reverse impression of the first-until the person concerned is utterly bewildered, and the reader likewise.

Mysterier appeared in 1893. In the following year Hamsun astonished his critics with two books, Ny Jord (New Ground) and Redakt?r Lynge, both equally unlike his previous work. With these he passes at a bound from one-man stories, portrait studies of eccentric characters in a remote or restricted environment, to group subjects, chosen from centres of life and culture in Christiania. Redakt?r Lynge-redakt?r, of course, means "editor"-deals largely with political manoeuvres and intrigues, the bitter controversial politics of Norway prior to the dissolution of the Union with Sweden. Ny Jord gives an unflattering picture of the academic, literary, and artistic youth of the capital, idlers for the most part, arrogant, unscrupulous, self-important, and full of disdain for the mere citizens and merchants whose simple honesty and kindliness are laughed at or exploited by the newly dominant representatives of culture.

Both these books are technically superior to the first two, inasmuch as they show mastery of a more difficult form. But their appeal is not so great; there is lacking a something that might be inspiration, personal sympathy-some indefinable essential that the author himself has taught us to expect. They are less hamsunsk than most of Hamsun's work. Hamsun is at his best among the scenes and characters he loves; tenderness and sympathy make up so great a part of his charm that he is hardly recognizable in surroundings or society uncongenial to himself.

It would almost seem as if he realized something of this. For in his next work he turns from the capital to the Nordland coast, reverting also, in some degree, to the subjective, keenly sensitive manner of Sult, though now with more restraint and concentration.

Pan (1894) is probably Hamsun's best-known work. It is a love-story, but of an extraordinary type, and is, moreover, important from the fact that we are here introduced to some of the characters and types that are destined to reappear again and again in his later works.

Nagel, the exasperating irresponsible of Mysterier, is at his maddest in his behaviour towards the woman he loves. It is natural that this should be so. When a man is intoxicated his essential qualities are emphasized. If he have wit, he will be witty; if a brutal nature, he will be a brute; if he be of a melancholy temper, he will be disposed to sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.

We see this in Pan. The love-making of the hero is characterized by the same irrational impulses, the same extravagant actions, as in Sult and Mysterier. But they are now less frequent and less involved. The book as a whole is toned down, so to speak, from the bewildering tangle of unrestraint in the first two. There is quite sufficient of the erratic and unusual in the character of Glahn, the hero, but the tone is more subdued. The madcap youth of genius has realized that the world looks frigidly at its vagaries, and the secretly proud "au moins je suis autre"-more a boast than a confession-gives place to a wistful, apologetic admission of the difference as a fault. Here already we have something of that resignation which comes later to its fulness in the story of the Wanderer with the Mute.

The love-story in Pan takes the form of a conflict; it is one of those battles between the sexes, duels of wit and esprit, such as one finds in the plays of Marivaux. But Hamsun sets his battle in the sign of the heart, not of the head; it is a marivaudage of feeling, none the less deep for its erratic utterance. Moreover, the scene is laid, not in salons and ante-chambers, but in a landscape such as Hamsun loves, the forest-clad hills above a little fishing village, between the h?ifjeld and the sea. And interwoven with the story, like an eerie breathing from the dark of woods at dusk and dawn, is the haunting presence of Iselin, la belle dame sans merci.

Otto Weininger, the author of Sex and Character, said of Pan that it was "perhaps the most beautiful novel ever written." Weininger, of course, was an extremist, and few would accept his judgment without reserve. It is doubtful whether any writer nowadays would venture to make such a claim for any book at all.

Pan is a book that offends against all sorts of rules; as a literary product it is eminently calculated to elicit, especially in England, the Olympian "this will never do." To begin with, it is not so much a novel as a novelle-a form of art little cultivated in this country, but which lends itself excellently to delicate artistic handling, and the creation of that subtle influence which Hamsun's countrymen call stemning, poorly rendered by the English "atmosphere." The epilogue is disproportionately long; the portion written as by another hand is all too recognizably in the style of the rest. And with all his chivalrous sacrifice and violent end, Glahn is at best a quixotic hero. Men, as men, would think him rather a fool, and women, as women, might flush at the thought of a cavalier so embarrassingly unrestrained. He is not to be idolized as a cinema star, or the literary gymnastic hero of a perennial Earl's Court Exhibition set to music on the stage. He could not be truthfully portrayed on a flamboyant wrapper as at all seductively masculine. In a word, he is neither a man's man nor a woman's man. But he is a human being, keenly susceptible to influence which most of us have felt, in some degree.

Closely allied to Pan is Victoria, likewise a story of conflict between two lovers. The actual plot can only be described as hackneyed. Girl and boy, the rich man's daughter and the poor man's son, playmates in youth, then separated by the barriers of social standing-few but the most hardened of "best-sellers" catering for semi-detached suburbia would venture nowadays to handle such a theme. Yet Hamsun dares, and so insistently unlike all else is the impress of his personality that the mechanical structure of the story is forgotten. It is interspersed with irrelevant fancies, visions and imaginings, a chain of tied notes heard as an undertone through the action on the surface. The effect is that of something straining towards an impossible realization; a beating of wings in the void; a striving for utterance of things beyond speech.

Victoria is the swan-song of Hamsun's subjective period. Already, in the three plays which appeared during the years immediately following Pan, he faces the merciless law of change; the unrelenting "forward" which means leaving loved things behind. Kareno, student of life, begins his career in resolute opposition to the old men, the established authorities who stand for compromise and resignation. For twenty years he remains obstinately faithful to his creed, that the old men must step aside or be thrust aside, to make way for the youth that will be served. "What has age that youth has not? Experience. Experience, in, all its poor and withered nakedness. And what use is their experience to us, who must make our own in every single happening of life?" In Aftenr?de, the "Sunset" of the trilogy, Kareno himself deserts the cause of youth, and allies himself to the party in power. And the final scene shows him telling a story to a child: "There was once a man who never would give way…."

The madness of Sult is excused as being delirium, due to physical suffering. Nagel, in Mysterier, is shown as a fool, an eccentric intolerable in ordinary society, though he is disconcertingly human, paradoxically sane. Glahn, in Pan, apologizes for his uncouth straightforwardness by confessing that he is more at home in the woods, where he can say and do what he pleases without offence. Johannes, in Victoria, is of humble birth, which counts in extenuation of his unmannerly frankness in early years. Later he becomes a poet, and as such is exempt in some degree from the conventional restraint imposed on those who aspire to polite society. All these well-chosen characters are made to serve the author's purpose as channels for poetic utterance that might otherwise seem irrelevant. The extent to which this is done may be seen from the way in which Hamsun lets a character in one book enter upon a theme which later becomes the subject of an independent work by the author himself. Thus Glahn is haunted by visions of Diderik and Iselin; Johannes writes fragments supposed to be spoken by one Vendt the Monk. Five years after Victoria, Hamsun gives us the romantic drama of Munken Vendt, in which Diderik and Iselin appear.

Throughout these early works, Hamsun is striving to find expression for his own sensitive personality; a form and degree of expression sufficient to relieve his own tension of feeling, without fusing the medium; adequate to his own needs, yet understandable and tolerable to ordinary human beings; to the readers of books. The process, in effect, is simply this: Hamsun is a poet, with a poet's deep and unusual feeling, and a poet's need of utterance. To gain a hearing, he chooses figures whom he can conveniently represent as fools. Secretly, he loves them, for they are himself. But to the world he can present them with a polite apology, a plea for kindly indulgence.

It is not infrequent in literature to find the wisest and most poignant utterances thus laid in the mouths of poor men clad in motley. Some of the most daring things in Shakespeare, the newest heresies of the Renaissance, are voiced by irresponsibles. Of all dramatic figures, that of the fool is most suited to the expression of concentrated feeling. There is an arresting question in a play of recent years, which runs something like this: "Do you think that the things people make fools of themselves about are any less real and true than the things they behave sensibly about?"

Most of us have at some time or another felt that uncomfortable, almost indecently denuding question which comes to us at rare moments from the stage where some great drama is being played: What is higher, what is more real: this, or the life we live? In that sudden flash, the matters of today's and tomorrow's reality in our minds appear as vulgar trifles, things of which we are ashamed. The feeling lasts but a moment; for a moment we have been something higher than ourselves, in the mere desire so to be. Then we fall back to ourselves once more, to the lower levels upon which alone we can exist. And yet it is by such potentials that we judge the highest art; by its power to give us, if only for a moment, something of that which the divinity of our aspiring minds finds wanting in the confines of reality.

The richness of this quality is one of the most endearing things in Hamsun's characters. Their sensitiveness is a thing we have been trained, for self-defence, to repress. It is well for us, no doubt, that this is so. But we are grateful for their showing that such things are, as we are grateful for Kensington Gardens who cannot live where trees are everywhere. The figures Hamsun sets before us as confessedly unsuited to the realities of life, his vagabonds, his failures, his fools, have power at times to make us question whether our world of comfort, luxury, success, is what we thought; if it were not well lost in exchange for the power to feel as they.

It has been said that life is a comedy to those who think, a tragedy to those who feel. Humanly speaking, it is one of the greatest merits of Hamsun's work that he shows otherwise. His attitude towards life is throughout one of feeling, yet he makes of life no tragedy, but a beautiful story.

"I will be young until I die," says Kareno in Aftenr?de. The words are not so much a challenge to fate as a denial of fact; he is not fighting, only refusing to acknowledge the power that is already hard upon him.

Kareno is an intellectual character. He is a philosopher, a man whose perceptions and activity lie predominantly in the sphere of thought, not of feeling. His attempt to carry the fire of youth beyond the grave of youth ends in disaster; an unnecessary débacle due to his gratuitously attempting the impossible.

Hamsun's poet-personality, the spirit we have seen striving for expression through the figures of Nagel, Glahn, Johannes, and the rest, is a creature of feeling. And here the development proceeds on altogether different lines. The emotion which fails to find adequate outlet, even in such works as Sult, Mysterier, Victoria, and Pan, might well seem more of a peril than the quixotic stubbornness of Kareno's philosophy. Such a flood, in its tempestuous unrest, might seem to threaten destruction, or at best the vain dispersal of its own power into chaos. But by some rare guidance it is led, after the storm of Munken Vendt, into channels of beneficent fertility.

In 1904, after an interval of short stories, letters of travel, and poems, came the story entitled Svoermere. The word means "Moths." It also stands for something else; something for which we English, as a sensible people, have no word. Something pleasantly futile, deliciously unprofitable-foolish lovers, hovering like moths about a lamp.

But there is more than this that is untranslatable in the title. As a title it suggests an attitude of gentleness, tenderness, sympathy, toward whomsoever it describes. It is a new note in Hamsun; the opening of a new motif.

The main thread of the story bears a certain similarity to that of Mysterier, Vicioria, and Pan, being a love affair of mazy windings, a tangled skein of loves-me-loves-me-not. But it is pure comedy throughout. Rolandsen, the telegraph operator in love with Elsie Mack, is no poet; he has not even any pretensions to education or social standing. He is a cheerful, riotous "blade," who sports with the girls of the village, gets drunk at times, and serenades the parson's wife at night with his guitar. Svoermere is the slightest of little stories in itself, but full of delightful vagaries and the most winning humour.

The story of Benoni, with its continuation Rosa, is in like vein; a tenderly humorous portrayal of love below stairs, the principal characters being chosen from the class who appear as supers in Pan; subjects or retainers of the all-powerful Trader Mack. It is as if the sub-plots in one of Shakespeare's plays had been taken out for separate presentment, and the clown promoted to be hero in a play of his own. The cast is increased, the milieu lightly drawn in Pan is now shown more comprehensively and in detail, making us gradually acquainted with a whole little community, a village world, knowing little of any world beyond, and forming a microcosm in itself.

Hamsun has returned, as it were, to the scene of his passionate youth, but in altered guise. He plays no part himself now, but is an onlooker, a stander-by, chronicling, as from a cloistered aloofness, yet with kindly wisdom always, the little things that matter in the lives of those around him. Wisdom and kindliness, sympathy and humour and understanding, these are the dominant notes of the new phase. Svoermere ends happily-for it is a story of other people's lives. So also with Benoni and Rosa at the last. And so surely has the author established his foothold on the new ground that he can even bring in Edvarda, the "Iselin" figure from Pan, once more, thus linking up his brave and lusty comedies of middle age with the romantic tragedies of his youth, making a comprehensive pageant-play of large-hearted humanity.

Meantime, the effect upon himself is seen-and avowed. Between Svoermere and Benoni comes the frankly first-personal narrative of a vagabond who describes himself, upon interrogation, as "Knut Pedersen"-which is two-thirds of Knut Pedersen Hamsund-and hailing from Nordland-which embraces Lofoten.

It does not need any showing of paper, however, to establish the identity of Knut Pedersen, vagabond, with the author of Pan. The opening words of the book ("Under H?ststjaernen") are enough. "Indian summer, mild and warm … it is many years now since I knew such peace. Twenty or thirty years maybe-or maybe it was in another life. But I have felt it some time, surely, since I go about now humming a little tune; go about rejoicing, loving every straw and every stone, and feeling as if they cared for me in return…."

This is the Hamsun of Pan. But Hamsun now is a greater soul than in the days when Glahn, the solitary dweller in the woods, picked up a broken twig from the ground and held it lovingly, because it looked poor and forsaken; or thanked the hillock of stone outside his hut because it stood there faithfully, as a friend that waited his return. He is stronger now, but no less delicate; he loves not Nature less, but the world more. He has learned to love his fellow-men. Knut Pedersen, vagabond, wanders about the country with his tramp-companions, Grindhusen, the painter who can ditch and delve at a pinch, or Falkenberg, farm-labourer in harvest-time, and piano-tuner where pianos are. Here is brave comradeship, the sharing of adventures, the ready wit of jovial vagrants. The book is a harmless picaresque, a geste of innocent rogue-errantry; its place is with Lavengro and The Cloister and the Hearth, in that ancient, endless order of tales which link up age with age and land with land in the unaltering, unfrontiered fellowship of the road that kept the spirit of poetry alive through the Dark Ages.

The vagabond from Nordland has his own adventures, his bonnes fortunes. There is a touch of Sterne about the book; not the exaggerated super-Sterne of Tristram Shandy, with eighteenth-century-futurist blanks and marbled pages, but the fluent, casual, follow-your-fancy Sterne of the Sentimental Journey. Yet the vagabond himself is unobtrusive, ready to step back and be a chronicler the moment other figures enter into constellation. He moves among youth, himself no longer young, and among gentlefolk, as one making no claim to equal rank.

Both these features are accentuated further in the story of the Wanderer with the Mute. It is a continuation of Under H?ststjaernen, and forms the culmination, the acquiescent close, of the self-expressional series that began with Sult. The discords of tortured loveliness are now resolved into an ultimate harmony of comely resignation and rich content. "A Wanderer may come to fifty years; he plays more softly then. Plays with muted strings." This is the keynote of the book. The Wanderer is no longer young; it is for youth to make the stories old men tell. Tragedy is reserved for those of high estate; a wanderer in corduroy, "such as labourers wear here in the south," can tell the story of his chatelaine and her lovers with the self-repression of a humbler Henry Esmond, winning nothing for himself even at the last, yet feeling he is still in Nature's debt.

Hamsun's next work is Den Siste Gloede (literally "The Last Joy"). The title as it stands is expressive. The substantive is "joy"-but it is so qualified by the preceding "last," a word of overwhelming influence in any combination, that the total effect is one of sadness. And the book itself is a masterly presentment of gloom. Masterly-or most natural: it is often hard to say how much of Hamsun's effect is due to superlative technique and how much to the inspired disregard of all technique. Den Siste Gloede is a diary of wearisome days, spent for the most part among unattractive, insignificant people at a holiday resort; the only "action" in it is an altogether pitiful love affair, in which the narrator is involved to the slightest possible degree. The writer is throughout despondent; he feels himself out of the race; his day is past. Solitude and quiet, Nature, and his own foolish feelings-these are the "last joys" left him now.

The book might have seemed a fitting, if pathetic, ending to the literary career of the author of Pan. Certainly it holds out no promise of further energy or interest in life or work. The closing words amount to a personal farewell.

Then, without warning, Hamsun enters upon a new phase of power. B?rn av Tilden (Children of the Age) is an objective study, its main theme being the "marriage" conflict touched upon in the Wanderer stories, and here developed in a different setting and with fuller individuality. Hamsun has here moved up a step in the social scale, from villagers of the Benoni type to the land-owning class. There is the same conflict of temperaments that we have seen before, but less violent now; the poet's late-won calm of mind, and the level of culture from which his characters now are drawn-perhaps by instinctive selection-make for restraint. Still a romantic at heart, he becomes more classic in form.

B?rn av Tilden is also the story of Segelfoss, in its passing from the tranquil dignity of a semi-feudal estate to the complex and ruthless modernity of an industrial centre. Segelfoss By (1915) treats of the fortunes of the succeeding generation, and the further development of Segelfoss into a township ("By").

Then, with Growth of the Soil, Hamsun achieves his greatest triumph. Setting aside all that mattered most to himself, he turns, with the experience of a lifetime rich in conflict, to the things that matter to us all. Deliberately shorn of all that makes for mere effect, Isak stands out as an elemental figure, the symbol of Man at his best, face to face with Nature and life. There is no greater human character-reverently said-in the Bible itself.

* * * * *

These, then, are the steps of Hamsun's progress as an author, from the passionate chaos of Sult to the Miltonic, monumental calm of Growth of the Soil. The stages in themselves are full of beauty; the wistfulness of Pan and Victoria, the kindly humour of Svoermere and Benoni, the autumn-tinted resignation of the Wanderer with the Mute-they follow as the seasons do, each with a charm of its own, yet all deriving from one source. His muse at first is Iselin, the embodiment of adolescent longing, the dream of those "whom delight flies because they give her chase." The hopelessness of his own pursuit fills him with pity for mortals under the same spell, and he steps aside to be a brave, encouraging chorus, or a kindly chronicler of others' lives. And his reward is the love of a greater divinity, the goddess of field and homestead. No will-o'-the-wisp, but a presence of wisdom and calm.


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